WASHINGTON — Authors of the Gramm-Rudman balanced budget law announced a plan today to make the White House's budget director responsible for ordering the automatic spending cuts needed to put teeth in the legislation.
The Supreme Court ruled the original Gramm-Rudman law's automatic spending cut mechanism unconstitutional because it relied on a legislative officer--the comptroller general--to make spending cuts, rather than an executive branch official.
Sens. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.) and Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) announced they will attempt to change the law so that the director of the Office of Management and Budget--an executive officer--will be the final budget cutter. The OMB director would make the cuts only after a long procedure designed to limit his discretion, the three said.
Basic Law Unchanged
They said the basic law, which requires the deficit to be cut in steps until it is wiped out by 1991, will remain the same. Under the law, Congress has the first chance to cut the deficit, but if it can't, the automatic cutting procedure would kick in.
"We got a flat tire on the way to the Supreme Court," said Hollings, "and what we're doing is fixing the tire; we're not trying to go over the automobile or grind the valves."
The three predicted wide support for their quick fix, and said they will attach the measure to the essential bill needed to raise the government's debt ceiling. That bill could be considered as early as next week by the Senate.
But there is opposition to the method in the House, mostly from those who are worried about giving up budget-making power to the executive branch.
Alan Morrison, an attorney for a group of congressmen who challenged the Gramm-Rudman law the last time, said if the procedure outlined by the three senators is approved by Congress, he would give "most serious consideration" to renewing the suit.
"I think it's just a fig leaf," Morrison said of the repair procedure.
Without the automatic budget-cutting mechanism, Congress would have to vote for across-the-board reductions in the coming years. In a minor test of that procedure, Congress voted Thursday keep in place $11.7 billion in spending cuts made this year under the Gramm-Rudman law but invalidated by the Supreme Court decision.